May 30, 2022 - World

Leftist and right-wing populist head to Colombia's presidential runoff

People watch electoral results in a screen during the Colombian presidential election, in Medellin, Colombia, on May 29, 2022.

Presidential electoral results come in on May 29 in Medellin, Colombia. Photo: Joaquin Sarmiento/AFP via Getty Images

Leftist senator Gustavo Petro and right-wing populist businessman Rodolfo Hernández will face off in Colombia's presidential runoff next month.

Why it matters: The success of the two anti-establishment candidates is a major blow to Colombia's political class, AP notes.

Driving the news: Petro led with just over 40% of the vote late Sunday, while Hernández was in second with about 28%. A candidate needed more than 50% to avoid a runoff.

  • Conservative Federico "Fico" Gutiérrez had been polling in second ahead of Sunday's election but only received about 23.9% of the vote. He told supporters he'd back Hernández in the second round, per Reuters.
  • Between the lines: Gutierrez was supported by a right-wing alliance similar to the one that helped Iván Duque win the presidency in 2018, the New York Times notes. Duque, whose popularity has plummeted since being elected, could not run for re-election.

The big picture: Colombia, one of Latin America’s biggest economies and strongest U.S. allies, is facing high inflation and unemployment, as well as deepening inequality made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • It's also still reeling after a half-century-long armed conflict with the now-defunct FARC guerrillas, Axios Latino's Marina E. Franco writes. The country has seen an uptick in violence, in part due to armed groups fighting over territory once controlled by the FARC.

Petro, a former mayor of Bogotá who was once a rebel fighter with the now-defunct M-19 movement, consistently led the polls ahead of Sunday's election.

  • He has promised to fight inequality and corruption, provide free public university education and tackle climate change, including opposing the expansion of the oil and gas industry. He also vowed to transform the economy by implementing tax reforms and other measures.
  • It's his third time vying for the presidency. If he wins the runoff, he will become Colombia's first leftist leader.

Hernández, a real estate tycoon and former mayor of the city of Bucaramanga, has also pledged to fight corruption and vowed to donate his salary, per AP.

  • He was a relatively unknown candidate until he got a last-minute boost in the polls ahead of Sunday's election.

Worth noting: For the first time, both VP candidates identify as Afro-Colombian: award-winning activist Francia Márquez is running with Petro, and Marelen Castillo, an academic, is Hernández’s running mate. The candidate whose ticket wins will be the country's first Black vice president.

What's next: The runoff is scheduled for June 19.

Go deeper